Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

The Debt Panel: 'I lost my job and left the UAE owing Dh71,000. Can I return?'

The energy sector employee has secured a new position in the Emirates but fears there will be repercussions from his exit

Illustration by Mathew Kurian 
Illustration by Mathew Kurian 

I am 33 and lost my job in the energy sector in August. At the time I was earning Dh12,000 and was 17 months into the repayments on a Dh109,000 loan, which I took out to make renovations on my parents' home in South Africa. I now owe Dh37,000 on the loan. I also have a credit card with an outstanding balance of Dh34,000, which I used for international expenses such as car hire and hotel bookings. This takes my total debts to Dh71,000.

After losing my job, I left the UAE and came home to South Africa. So far I have missed two payments on my debts. Friends have deposited money into my UAE account to help reduce the deficit; so far Dh3,000 has been paid and another Dh7,000 will be there next month. I'm also awaiting my final gratuity from my last employer, which will be about Dh15,000.

I have been communicating with the bank about the job loss and asked for their patience and understanding. I told them I am committed to doing everything I can to make the payments.

I have now negotiated a new job contract where I will earn Dh15,000, however, I can only start working in December as I have exams to complete in South Africa. Although I have explained my willingness to repay to the bank, I am scared I might get arrested when I return to the UAE to start my new job. How long does it take for banks to blacklist you and put a travel ban in place? And how about a police case for unpaid loans or credit cards?

When I lived in the UAE my expenses were Dh400 a month for my phone bill and then the loan and credit card would take up Dh8,000. The rest was sent home to help support my family. I lived in company accommodation where food was included.

With my new offer of Dh15,000, I will pay rent, groceries, transport to work and continue to support my family. My priority is to get my credit status in shape before anything else. MS, South Africa

Debt panellist 1: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com

Exiting the UAE without informing your bank may have seemed the convenient option but now that you've missed two consecutive loan installments your credibility as a borrower has diminished. A lender in the UAE has the right to claim immediate and full payment against a loan under several circumstances that constitute a loan default, for example, if the borrower misses three consecutive or six non-consecutive installments, or is terminated from employment.

Eventually, you must ask for confirmation from the bank that no legal charges have been filed yet.

Ambareen Musa

But there is a silver lining: one of your biggest positives is that you maintained regular communication with the lender. And now that you've landed a confirmed job offer, reaching out to the bank to work out a favourable repayment solution should be much easier.

Here's what you could do: first, get in touch with the bank once again and provide them with verifiable details of the new job offer. Also let them know about your plans to come back to the UAE and your intention to make debt repayment your top priority. You also mentioned that you'll have access to some additional cash soon — Dh7,000 from friends and the Dh15,000 gratuity from your previous employer. Keep your bank in the loop on this and proactively ask them to use these funds to recover the loan repayments.

Eventually, you must ask for confirmation from the bank that no legal charges have been filed yet. While it would be wise to ask the bank to waive any late payment charges and penalty interest given your temporary financial hardship, that can be tackled once you're back in the country.

Once you return, focus on settling your credit card debt first. Your outstanding balance would have started accumulating some heavy interest by now. Even if that means scraping by for the first couple of months, cutting your credit card debt down to zero will be the best move to ensure long-term financial stability.

Debt panellist 2: Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets

I am always pleased to see people wanting to do the right thing and settle their debts and would like to see banks being more understanding in such situations. A bank can only register a police case for debt after three payments have been missed. Your total debt is not that large, at least not compared to many, and you have made some payments. This will be in your favour.

Have you told the bank that further funds are due from your last employer? I suggest informing them that this payment is to be used for monthly repayments. This ought to keep your lender happy but make sure to get any agreements in writing. Also, ask them to confirm they will not register a police case against you while payments are being made.

A bank cannot place a travel ban of an individual, only the courts can do this if the bank makes an application to them. This course of action is usually taken if a borrower is in the country and is expected to abscond without repaying debts.

If you were resident in Dubai, you can check online to see if a case has been registered against you as Dubai Police has a useful online system. This can be accessed via the Dubai Police website or via their app and an Emirates ID number is required. The Judicial Department in Abu Dhabi also has an online system. If these don’t work for you, or you were resident in another emirate, you can contact the relevant immigration department to obtain confirmation. A police case can cause issues on re-entering the UAE, which is why you need to confirm the situation.

In the meantime, continue a dialogue with the bank as this shows your intent. Banks tend to be far more amenable when a borrower keeps them informed and makes some payments.

Debt panellist 3: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

There are two issues which have exacerbated your situation: you did not pay off your credit card balance every month and you did not have a cash buffer to cover a few months of expenses while you looked for another job. Many people are in the same situation and they are very vulnerable, as you have discovered, if they lose their employment.

It is good that you are communicating with the bank. You should discuss with them what they would do under various circumstances, so that you are clear what the consequences of returning to the UAE are. It is not in their interest to penalise you, especially as you have a job to come back to. Can you really not complete the exams in the UAE or remotely?

You need to prepare your family for not receiving as much money from you while you pay off your debt. Is there anyone else who can support them? By the time you return to the UAE, you will still have Dh40,000-Dh50,000 to pay off. If all goes well, you can pay this off within a year.

Your priority will be to save as much money as possible. Keep living costs low, for example investigate some of the new mobile phone companies that offer good low-cost deals. You can live in shared accommodation to keep the rent down. You should pay at least Dh8,000 per month towards your debts, though with a salary of Dh15,000 you should be able to pay more. Aim for Dh10,000 per month.

Look for other ways to generate income on top of your new salary and get creative about this. That will enable you to save even more money for paying down your debt.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: October 15, 2019 10:36 AM

SHARE

SHARE